On the run in India: $100,000 road-death reward

Police are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a young Indian man who killed a student on a Melbourne road almost four years ago before fleeing the country.

Puneet Puneet was a 19-year-old learner-driver when he lost control and hit students Dean Hofstee and Clancy Cloker who were walking along City Road in Southbank in October, 2008.

Mr Hofstee, 19, was killed instantly while Mr Cloker suffered critical injuries. Both were students visiting Melbourne from Queensland.

Puneet fled the scene but was later caught and found to have a blood alcohol reading of 0.165.

Police estimate he was driving his V6 Commodore at 148 km/h in a 60km/h zone at the time of the crash.

Puneet had maintained that he was not driving that fast and swerved to avoid a cat. He apologised and vowed never to drive again, describing the crash as "the worst day of my life".

Having pleaded guilty to culpable driving, Puneet was awaiting sentence when he fled Australia for India on a passport borrowed from a friend in June 2009.

The friend, Sukhcharanjit Singh, was jailed for 30 months for perverting the course of justice.

Today, Dean's parents made an appeal for information about Puneet.

His father Peter said his ‘‘boisterous’’ sport-loving son had been brought up to accept responsibility, and that Puneet must do the same thing.

‘‘I think Puneet Puneet has to accept responsibility for his actions, and thus far he hasn’t’’ Mr Hofstee said.

‘‘Dean would have accepted the consequences, and I would expect Puneet Puneet to do the same thing.

‘‘We think about Dean every day. I think closure is always important, I wouldn’t have believed that 10 years ago, but I believe it now.’’

Dean’s mother Fran also said that Australian politicians who had visited India since her son was killed - including Premier Ted Baillieu and his predecessor John Brumby - ‘‘had opportunities to broach the subject but they appear not to have’’.

Police in Puneet's home state have reportedly come close to catching him, but he has evaded all efforts to arrest him.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill today said Puneet was believed to be living in India, and offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the location, apprehension and return of Puneet to Victoria.

Mr Hill said this was the first time a reward had been offered in relation to a traffic matter, indicating the seriousness of the offence.

“It has been almost four years since this tragedy occurred and investigators want to provide some resolution to this, particularly for the family of Dean Hofstee,” Mr Hill said.

“Our initial investigation resulted in Puneet being charged with extremely serious criminal offences, what we want now is for those matters to have their day in court.

“We believe that there are people both in Australia and India who can provide information in relation to Puneet's whereabouts."

Australian Federal Police are assisting Victoria Police's major collision investigation unit in the investigation.

In June, Indian police revealed they had begun tapping the phones of Puneet's family in India and had offered a reward for information leading to Puneet's arrest.

"We have started [the] hunt operation freshly after the Australian high commission made another request two months back," the Deputy Superintendent of Haryana Police, Arun Kumar, told The Sun-Herald from Puneet's home town.

"We have conducted raids, put his family members' phones under observation and we [are] analysing their every movement. We placed fresh newspaper advertisements and announced [an] appropriate reward ..."

Assistant Commissioner Hill said he expected the reward would generate wide publicity in India.

The Indian authorities will put out a media release later today encouraging people to provide information leading to Puneet’s location, capture and return to Australia

‘‘We’re very confident [that this reward will generate results],’’ Mr Hill said.

‘‘One hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money to Australians, and it’s an extraordinary amount of money in India.’’

Anyone with information about Puneet's location has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.crimestoppers.com.au.

The story On the run in India: $100,000 road-death reward first appeared on The Age.

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